The nicknames and “dit names” of French-Canadian ancestors

In France, nicknames were added to surnames to distinguish between families with similar names living in the same geographical area. When immigrants coming from France settled in New France, this custom continued. Some immigrants, mostly soldiers, already had an alias or a “dit name” when they arrived while others acquired a “dit name” after they settled in New France.

How were “dit names” created?

“Dit names” were created by taking a person’s family name, adding a nickname that described one of the individual’s unique characteristics, and connecting the two with the word “dit,” for example, Miville dit Deschênes.

These nicknames were based on the following:

  • physical characteristics (Le Fort, Le Roux);
  • moral characteristics (Le Bon, Le Sage);
  • trades (Le Boucher);
  • places of origin, including country, province, city, town, village (le Picard, Le Normand);
  • places of residence (Du Val, Du Puis);
  • first names of ancestors (Deblois dit Grégoire, Fasche dit Robert);
  • actions (Ladébauche, Ladéroute).

Until around the 1850s, both surnames and “dit names” were used in records. After that time, only one of the two names was used.

Lists of “dit names” and their associated surnames can be found in the publications and websites that follow:

  • Dictionnaire généalogique des familles canadiennes depuis la fondation de la colonie jusqu’à nos jours (OCLC84696383) by Cyprien Tanguay, volume 7 (also available online on the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec website);
  • Dictionnaire des familles du Québec, (OCLC718113177) by René Jetté;
  • Répertoire des noms de famille du Québec, des origines à 1825 by René Jetté and Micheline Lécuyer (OCLC22277750).

Other relevant websites

Conduct your own research using AMICUS

Do your own search for “dit names” in AURORA by title or subject using terms such as “name,” “family name” and “France.”

9 thoughts on “The nicknames and “dit names” of French-Canadian ancestors

  1. Pingback: French Canadian “dit” names | Ottawa Valley Irish

  2. Hello, I’m the Township of Jay Historian and I received this question: As per Jane Dubrey Venne … “What does Vve mean ? I see it in front of a few of the names in the church registries. ” Can you help us in regards to this question? Another lady replied that is means Widow … please advise. Thank you kindly.

  3. I am familiar with dit names through doing my family tree. I understand the dit comes between last name and add on. My 4x great gramma who was born out of wedlock, parents names not given, is referred to as Angelique dit Laurent on her marriage document. I’ve never run into this before. Does this mean she is known as Laurent but it’s not her real/actual name? Thank you! Hoping you can help! Maureen…

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